The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit

Our rating: ****

Willie is the errand boy for Puddling Center, a town where all the people think much more of work than play. One day, a showman named Professor Petit comes to town with his five dogs. Willie and the Professor become good friends, and Willie is distressed to hear that Professor Petit’s show may go bankrupt. The cause of the trouble is another showman, Black Hoskins, who is taking all of the Professor’s business. Professor Petit doesn’t mind being beaten by an honest showman, but Black Hoskins seems to be doing everything in his power to shut down the Professor’s show, and Willie suspects that the competing showman is swindling the townsfolk as well.

The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit is a short, fun story. Some of the tricks done by the dogs seem a little unrealistic, however the rest of the book has plenty of charm to make up for that slight flaw. Younger and older readers will both find the story entertaining, and I highly recommend it.

Sam Small Flies Again

Our rating: ****½

Sam Small is the most extraordinary man in Yorkshire, which, of course, means the whole world. Throughout the book, Sam manages to get into several absurd situations, such as splitting his personality so that there are two Sams, finding a talking dog, learning how to fly, and turning into a German officer and planning an attack on Britain by accident.

Sam Small is in an episodic format, so each of the ten stories can stand alone. Some of the stories contain material that is unsuitable for younger readers, similar to James Herriot’s books, and much of the humor may not be understood by a younger reader. Older readers will find Sam Small to be enjoyable and hilarious. Do not skip author’s note as it explains the origins of the main character and includes a beautiful piece about writing in general. The Yorkshire dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but the book is well worth it. Despite the title, Sam Small Flies Again is Eric Knight’s only book about Sam.

The Saturdays

Our rating: ***

Every Saturday, the four Melendy children receive their allowance, but each child never has enough to do what he or she really wants to do. Mona, Rush, Randy (short for Miranda), and Oliver decide one rainy day to pool their resources, and the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club is formed. Each child gets a turn to use all the allowance money for whatever he or she wants. This arrangement is satisfying to everybody and the Melendys plan what exciting things they will do on their Saturdays.

The first of four books about the Melendys, The Saturdays is similar in style to The Moffats. I found The Saturdays to be not quite as good as the Moffat books, but still enjoyable to read. Later events in The Saturdays shift a little towards the unbelievable, almost as if the author wanted to put in some adventure and it didn’t quite fit. Nothing weird happens; the events just seem to get a little too coincidental. Overall, a good, simple story of four children growing up during the early 1940s.

The Runaway Dog Team

Our rating: ****½

More than anything, 16-year-old Peter Riggett wants to be considered a man, so he finds it an affront to his pride when his father won’t let him a buy a very good sled dog that was offered at a ridiculously cheap price. Mr. Riggett had good reason to be suspicious of the seller’s honesty, but he fails to tell Peter his reasons. Peter, frustrated by what he sees as unfair treatment by his father, runs away from home. Too proud, and secretly too ashamed, to go back home, Peter joins a group of men, finding out later that the men are rum-runners. Peter is finally thrown out of the group when he stands up to the leader, who is the man who tried to sell Peter the dog earlier. Feeling that he must redeem himself for his past actions, Peter joins two police officers and another man named Pewee Ledoux in the hopes of catching the gang he has just escaped.

There is much more to this book than can be put into a summary. It would make a good read-aloud, though some characters talk in broken English mixed with the occasional French that could be difficult to read out loud. The Runaway Dog Team is written in an late 1920s style, so there are a few places where the author gets a little wordy. Other than that, this is a great story of a self-centered boy learning to dump his pride and finding what it really means to grow to manhood.

The Hundred and One Dalmatians

Our rating: ***½

Dalmatians Pongo and Missis are the proud parents of fifteen puppies. When their pets, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, invite college friend Cruella de Ville to dinner, Cruella, who loves fur coats, decides she needs a Dalmatian coat! The puppies are stolen soon after, but the humans have no idea who is responsible. It’s up to the dogs to track down the thieves and rescue the puppies.

Everybody knows the Disney movie story which is based on this book. What few people realize is that there is a book in the first place. And as is the general rule of thumb, the book is better. Although the plot is similar, there are several fun detours that didn’t quite make the film, which is also the case with much of the clever humor in the book. One caveat: Cruella is never specifically labelled human. In fact, Pongo and Missis often wonder if she is something quite a bit more evil, though this suspicion is never confirmed. Overlooking that, this one will be loved by all.